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Vampires & High Schoolers: Seraph of the End Volume 1 Review

Written by David Mitchell on Monday, August 18 2014 and posted in Reviews

Vampires & High Schoolers: Seraph of the End Volume 1 Review

Vampires have now sunk their teeth into shounen manga.

Seraph of the End is an odd sort of series. Despite some heavy dystopian angst, it's actually a fairly buoyant little series. Bouncing between a great number of anime and manga tropes, Seraph of the End is a veritable buffet for the gluttonous otaku. However, if you aren't a great fan of the tropes and cliches of the Shounen genre, you might find the plot a bit schizophrenic.

It's hard to really describe the plot without spoiling some of it, so, sorry, some spoilers are to follow.
Seraph of the End opens with a quick and efficient exposition dump: Humanity is over, and vampires have risen. Every adult in the world has died of a virus and children are kept as livestock by vampiric overlords.Enter Yuichiro Hyakuya, a rambunctious hard-head that one would expect in a shounen action tale. A chunk of the first volume is dedicated to Yuichiro's escape from his captors, which reveals to us that humanity hasn't actually ended. So much for all the exposition, huh? Haunted by the deaths of other children while he was captured by the vampires, Yuichiro allies with a "Demon Army" rebuilding the human world and seeking to destroy the vampires. Much of the rest of the volume takes an odd turn where the army forces Yuichiro to join a high school and act as a regular high schooler while training. 
Writer Takaya Kagami isn't at all afraid of diving right into new story elements. The world rollicks along like a rollercoaster with plenty of new developments. Flashbacks to a past in an orphanage dot the tale, which rapidly moves from planning to escape to action to high school to action again. Each new phase introduces plenty of new characters and plot concepts, many of which are more or less left undeveloped. Despite the shallow introduction, I feel that the series might go on to explain more- the rapidly evolving first volume seems to be that way only to serve exposition. I imagine that from volume two forward, we might see a slightly more even keel. 
Fans of anime and manga who really enjoy when a series feels "very manga-ish" will probably enjoy the narrative. The constant shifts in status quo are dynamic and supported by characters that feel heavily influenced by the history of shounen action. Not necessarily in the same legacy as Dragon Ball or Naruto or what have you, but nonetheless, the characters and their actions have an unmistakable shounen aura. People more skeptical of manga may find some of the characters and plot developments somewhat silly, however- such as that the main character is forced to go to high school and make friends before he's allowed to advance in the vampire-hunting Demon Army.
The real star however is illustrator Yamato Yamamoto. Characters are convincingly cartooned, with that nice sculptural feel where everything looks as if it has actual weight and volume. It's not necessarily realist, mind you- Yamamoto has a nice slick style that feels very professional and very clean. Blacks are confident, points coming to sharp ends. White feels less like negative space and more like a deliberate and controlled surface. The use of greys is limited, serving primarily to enhance the stylish pop contrast between black and white. The shining point of the visuals is in the sharp, fluid linework. With outstanding lineweight variance, Yamamoto really communicates a lot of information with subtlety and beauty.
So what can I say that I haven't said yet? Seraph of the End is going to appeal to fans of anime and manga. It's got that air to it, that aura of shounen. The small moments and big plot developments that are part of the shounen narrative lineage. If you're a fan of that ongoing conversation, be it in the form of Bleach or Full Metal Alchemist or whatever else, you may find something enjoyable in the beautifully-drawn pages of Seraph of the End. If you find yourself cynical about manga, or shounen manga in particular, you may want to skip this one for now.


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